Las Vegas sticking toe in NHL waters

Businessman will gauge interest in season tickets

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BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The last time the NHL gave a market the opportunity to conduct a ticket drive to prove its worthiness, the people of Winnipeg snatched up 13,000 or so tickets and guaranteed the return of the Jets.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/12/2014 (2857 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The last time the NHL gave a market the opportunity to conduct a ticket drive to prove its worthiness, the people of Winnipeg snatched up 13,000 or so tickets and guaranteed the return of the Jets.

Batter up, Las Vegas.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dropped a bomb on a room full of media Monday at the league’s board of governors meetings, saying he had been asked by U.S. businessman William Foley for permission to hold a season-ticket sales drive in Las Vegas. Bettman took the matter to the board of governors and they did not object to the process.

‘… There was no objection to giving them an opportunity to explore… the level of interest in having a professional sports team in Las Vegas’

— NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

“We gave the board an update on expressions of interest from cities and people interested in expansion teams. There is no formal expansion process. There is no vote that was taken today. There is no vote that was contemplated. We don’t have an agreement to sell anybody an expansion franchise,” said Bettman. “However, the interest that we are getting from Las Vegas has raised lots of questions about the market itself and the interest level in supporting a professional team in Las Vegas.

“Las Vegas is a unique market and both we, owners, and the potential expansion team owner, Bill Foley, had some questions that he would like to answer. Bill asked me last week what would be the possibility of them, knowing that they don’t have a team, they don’t have an expansion commitment, what would be our reaction to them conducting a season-ticket drive to measure the level of interest? So that if there is interest there, he will continue to pursue that interest, and if it turns out that there isn’t interest there, then he would stop his efforts and stop using valuable time and money in pursuit of a team if it didn’t make sense.

“I raised that possibility with the board, and there was no objection to giving them an opportunity to explore what the level of interest in having a professional sports team in Las Vegas might be.”

When Bettman asked Winnipeg to prove it would support NHL hockey at NHL prices, he had already allowed Mark Chipman to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers with the intent to transfer the franchise to Winnipeg. The caveat in the deal was the board of governors had to be satisfied they weren’t moving a team from one unsupported market to another.

There is a perception the fan base in Las Vegas would be largely made up of tourists being handed tickets purchased by casinos.

Bettman says the league will work with Foley to help structure the ticket drive to try and derive as much information on the market as possible.

“Obviously (if) the market is as strong as some people believe, obviously Mr. Foley will continue to be interested and we’ll have to figure it out from there,” said Bettman. “It may be that we’re in the same position we’re in now, but he’ll hang in there until whatever point we decide we want to do an expansion. And it may be that the board decides they still don’t want to expand at all. All it’s doing is letting him measure for his interest and ours whether or not the market will support a team, at least from that measure alone. It’s not any bigger deal than I just announced.”

Las Vegas has already begun work on a new arena and so has Quebec City. There has been lots of discussion surrounding Seattle but they currently don’t have a suitable venue. Does the league have to expand by two franchises or can it just add one.

“It’s not something we’ve considered. Considering that we’re out of balance now, for those concerned about symmetry, you know, if you could play 14 and 16, theoretically, you could play 15 and 16,” said Bettman.

Pierre Dion, CEO of TVA, was in Boca Raton to discuss the companies broadcast arrangement with the NHL and, according to Bettman, not his company’s lease agreement at Quebec City’s new hockey arena scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2015.

Bettman was also asked how the process in Las Vegas should be viewed in terms of the league’s interest in Quebec City.

“There is no temperature. It’s not less hot, it’s not more hot. Pierre Dion and the board did not discuss at all the new building or the team; the discussion was purely about our television arrangement with TVA. There is no measure here. We haven’t ranked teams. We haven’t ranked markets. There is no process. This is purely a request from someone under a unique situation asking for an opportunity to measure interest, and for example, I don’t think that would be necessary in Quebec City.”

In other news, Bettman predicted the maximum salary cap for next season would be $73 million US and the minimum would be $54 million.

For Jets fans, based on the team’s previous budgets being situated in third quartile of salary range – expect the club to set an internal salary budget somewhere between $63 million and $68 million.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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